This is tough to say, but here it goes: Standard has grown a bit stale as of late. There, I said it (SHOCK AND SURPISE!). Don’t get me wrong, there are many powerful strategies available to those treading in type two. That being said, it seems like we have settled into a pretty consistent control, monsters, and devotion format. Luckily, out of the ashes, one of my favorite strategies has made a triumphant return. If you couldn’t tell by the poor phoenix metaphor, burn has returned to the format in a major way. This culminated in a stunning four copies of the archetype in the top 16 of the Seattle SCG open a few weeks ago. Many thought that once the deck was a known commodity that it would die down. These people were wrong, and two more copies of the list made it into the top of StarCityGames’ premiere Invitational in Charlotte, North Carolina. This archetype is burning up the format, and I want to break it down.
We should of course begin with a list. Interestingly, this archetype doesn’t exactly have the perfect 75 just yet. Unlike decks such as mono-blue, which only switch two or three cards across lists, the burn decks can feature dramatically different creatures and spells. We will try to nail the best down though. Let’s look at a list from the Invitational.
R/W Burn by Gregg Spano
I would call the main 60 here a “traditional” list. We aren’t utilizing many creatures here; instead we are hoping to blank our opponent’s removal. Ash Zealot serves as a two drop that can get in a fair amount of damage against our slower opponents. Zealot really shines in the control match-up where haste is very powerful. Additionally, there are four copies of Chandra’s Phoenix. This card is deceptively powerful. It looks like an innocuous three drop, but it truly shines while backed up with numerous burn spells. Phoenix offers some card advantage and staying power for a deck that generally lacks in both. To that end, this decks’ ability to play all four Mutavaults adds to this.
In the spell department we see the best that the format has to offer. The true powerhouses here are Searing Blood and Skullcrack respectively. Searing Blood gives you a leg up against any smaller creature deck. It also is a pretty crippling spell to cast against the monster decks’ Elvish Mystics. Skullcrack allows us to not succumb to the giant Sphinx’s Revelations out of the control decks. It forces any opponent looking to stabilize via life gain to play around it at all times. Beyond this we have a few copies of Chained to the Rocks for those creatures that are proving difficult to race.
Overall, the list is fairly straightforward. As a pilot of this deck, you want to be able to hit the gas right from the get go. This deck definitely doesn’t play catch-up very well. Luckily, this type of proactive game plan works very well when the most common decks in the format are Esper and black control variants. This deck also has a great match-up versus the various monsters lists, due to the fact that you actually do not care about what they are doing; it’s just a straight up race that you generally win. This deck also punishes any deck attempting to run a shaky manabase. Much like in Legacy and Modern, if your opponent is taking life and tempo losses from their lands, then your are ahead.
This isn’t to say there aren’t ways to beat this deck. Gaining life is pretty powerful strategy against this deck. While Skullcrack is powerful tool, sometimes you just don’t have it. There are some scary cards in the format that help opponents gain life, including Sphinx’s Revelation, Archangel of Thune, and Grey Merchant of Asphodel. The scariest right now may in fact be Fiendslayer Paladin, due to the fact that Chained to the Rocks is the only way we have to interact with this card positively. Additionally, aggressive creature decks can present a problem. Cards like Brimaz, King of Oreskos usually require more than one card to answer. When we have to expend our resources to kill creatures, then we don’t generally have enough left over to kill the opponent.
The Best Around
With all of that said, let’s take a look and the cards that make this archetype tick.
Chandra’s Phoenix: This may be one of the most underrated cards in Standard right now. Perhaps a 2/2 for three seems fairly inconspicuous, but the ability to bring it back from the dead is truly powerful. Red decks are notorious for not having many outlets for card advantage, and Phoenix lets you net some by cycling over and over again. There is a reason that Last Breath is so ubiquitous right now. The red mage is always happy to see opponents expend mana and resources to kill a creature that you are going to cast again on the next turn. It is important to play this card correctly; control opponents have a hard time with Chandra’s Phoenix, unless you walk two of them into a Detention Sphere.
Searing Blood: Searing Blood punishes any deck running small creatures in a serious way. The classic burn deck conundrum is where to expend resources. Do you clear the board granting you more time, or do you attack the opponent and hope to race? Searing Blaze 2.0 is able to clear these pesky early drops out while still sending an all-important three damage to the opponent’s dome. While the card itself is less impressive against the various control variants, most are playing Mutavaults, which serve as a beautiful target.
Boros Charm: Boros Charm is the best rate for burn that the format has to offer. Two mana for four damage is above and beyond our normal rate of two or three. Boros Charm is the card that opponents fear when their life total dwindles. Many opponents hope to stabilize after the early onslaught, only to be dealt a terrifying eight damage by the old double charm. Boros Charm also offers the utility of saving your creatures from Supreme Verdict. While this is a rare use (while double strike literally should never happen in most lists), it is something that generic burn spells obviously do not offer.
ALL DEEZ FOUR OFS: Seriously, take a look at the exemplar list again…no really, I’ll wait. You get to run one of the most consistent lists in a format full of slower decks. You even get to play four Mutavaults, one of the most powerful cards in the format. This deck really rewards tight play and correct board assessment (knowing what to kill). However, once you have gotten to know the list, then you can expect the bulk of your games to play out in a similar fashion.
The Not Quite Ready for Prime Time Players
As previously mentioned, one of the interesting things about this archetype in Standard is that there still isn’t a definitive list. While Gregg Spano’s list is a pretty good exemplar, there are number of cards that have seen play in these strategies.
Young Pyromancer: Young Peezy has already proven itself to be a pretty powerful card all on its own, and it seems like this style of deck would be the natural fit for the Chandra impersonator. While the deck definitely allows for the creation of many elementals, Pyromancer is in an awkward spot here. It dies to everything, and does not guarantee two damage like Ash Zealot generally does. Also, 1/1’s are not that impressive in the format right now. Jace, Architect of Thought, Frostburn Weirds, and Sylvan Caryatids make them seem a bit underpowered. I am a fan of this card, but it does seem to be the odd man out.
Stormbreath Dragon: There are still many lists running this card and for good reason! Thundermaw Hellkite’s white mana hating cousin has been tearing up Standard. This card essentially forced the U/W control lists to start running Doom Blades again. Why then is it not ubiquitous? The problem is that Stormbreath drives your curve up to a dangerous level, increasing you chances of flooding out substantially. Additionally, Stormbreath Dragon turns on removal that may be dead in your opponent’s hand, leading to tempo blowouts. For now the dragon seems out, but if U/W rears its head again, we will know who to call.
Chandra, Pyromaster: Chandra seems like an obvious choice if Chandra’s Phoenix is so good right? Sadly, the answer is a bit murkier than that. Chandra has a lot of sweet synergies within the various burn lists, but it suffers from being a permanent that also turns on many of our opponents’ cards, namely Detention Sphere and Hero’s Downfall. The four drop planeswalker also does very little against creature lists unless we plan to protect it, and generally we do not. Chandra probably has a place in sideboards for control match-ups, but probably isn’t going to pull her weight in the main deck right now.
Boros Reckoner: Reckoner is by far one of the most powerful creatures in Standard right now; however, it is also a pretty slow card. At the three slot, this card doesn’t guarantee any damage (especially against control). Reckoner makes more sense in lists looking to take advantage of its unique stats or its devotion count. It may make sideboard appearances in creature heavy metas though.
Satyr Firedancer: Here is another card that has shown up in various decks and sideboards. Satyr Firedancer’s ability to allow our burn spells to clear the board seems amazing. The problem is its poor stats and general uselessness against control .This card can take over match-ups like Mono-Blue, but beyond this, it seems sub-par at the moment.
Assess the Meta
It looks like R/W Burn is here to stay. This doesn’t mean that it will be a great call from week to week. Other decks have already begun to make certain innovations to shore up this match-up. For example, full play sets of Staff of the Death Magus showed up in multiple Mono-Black lists at GP Beijing. Red mages will need to be diligent about assessing where the metagame if shifting. Lots of incidental life gain in the format? Don’t sleeve up burn. Is Esper back again? Make room for Burning Earth. Mono-Blue taking over again? Hello Satyr Firedancer!
As I mentioned, this is an extremely consistent deck. This also means that your sideboarding choices must be tested. Dead cards can and will lead to losses, so make sure that you are working diligently to correctly assess where the format is moving week to week. With that being said, have fun melting people’s faces!
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